Paula Brown, director of the Natural Health and Food Products Research Group at the BC Institute of Technology, shown in this undated handout image, is involved in testing of over 700 samples of kombucha from around Canada, the United States and one producer in Australia to determine if alcohol levels are above legal limits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-British Columbia Institute of Technology *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Paula Brown, director of the Natural Health and Food Products Research Group at the BC Institute of Technology, shown in this undated handout image, is involved in testing of over 700 samples of kombucha from around Canada, the United States and one producer in Australia to determine if alcohol levels are above legal limits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-British Columbia Institute of Technology *MANDATORY CREDIT*

B.C. site testing over 700 samples of kombucha for alcohol levels

Drinks with more than 1.1% alcohol must list it on the label

The popular fermented drink kombucha is considered a healthy beverage containing good-for-the-gut probiotics but the BC Centre for Disease Control is concerned some products may have higher-than-regulated levels of alcohol.

The centre is working with the BC Institute of Technology, which is testing the last of about 760 samples of the beverage.

Lorraine McIntyre, the centre’s food safety specialist, said the impetus for the research came partly from concerns that some kombucha products in the Maritimes may contain more alcohol than levels allowed by Health Canada or the province, where any amount of alcohol must be listed on labels.

The federal regulator requires beverages containing more than 1.1 per cent alcohol by volume to stipulate how much booze is in them, she said, adding beverages containing one per cent alcohol are not considered to be liquor in British Columbia and Ontario, though levels vary slightly by province. The allowable amount in the United States is 0.5 per cent alcohol by volume.

The samples that are being tested were collected in the Vancouver area from producers located in B.C., Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and the United States. One came from a producer in Australia.

The research was also prompted by issues in the U.S., where bottles of kombucha have been found to have more than the legal limit of alcohol, McIntyre said.

Alcohol is a normal byproduct of the fermentation process but levels can increase as kombucha products sit, especially if they’re not refrigerated, she said, adding consumers should know how much alcohol is present in the green- or black-tea based beverages that are infused with fruit, mint, ginger and other flavours.

“We really want consumers to make an informed choice so kombucha may not be the right beverage for everyone and particularly this isn’t a beverage you should feed to young children or if you’re pregnant and you want to avoid alcohol to protect your baby.”

The products being tested by the research group were collected by the centre’s food safety specialists and environmental health officers from regional health authorities who visited various places including grocery stores, restaurants, farmers markets and production facilities.

The centre is expected to report its findings at the end of the month.

Paula Brown, director of the BC Institute of Technology’s Natural Health and Food Products Research Group, said various methods exist to test the level of alcohol in non-alcohol beer or booze produced in a distillery but kombucha presents some challenges because it contains sugar, yeast, micro-organisms and possible additives.

“It’s not just water and alcohol in it. The bottles can have any number of flavourings and I’ve even seen bottles that have quinoa,” she said, adding the tea bases can contain chemical compounds that can affect the fermentation process.

Brown said a method developed by the research group to measure ethanol levels in kombucha production and during storage is being used as part of the study with the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The goal is to establish best practices for producing and properly storing kombucha to benefit both the industry and consumers, she said.

“From our research we know that time and temperature have an impact on the production of ethanol during storage. It’s a bit of a concern if products are coming from far way and you don’t know how they were transported, you don’t know how long it’s been since they were manufactured, you don’t know how long they sat around,” Brown said.

“Refrigeration can be variable and we don’t really now about refrigeration during transport but it can definitely have an impact.”

Hannah Crum, president and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Kombucha Brewers International, said a major retailer with stores in Canada pulled all of its kombucha off the shelves in the U.S. in 2010 after a finding of higher-than-legal alcohol levels though that did not involve an official government recall.

“It did help us to understand that there were aspects that we needed to address in terms of accurate testing processes,” she said.

Further concerns about alcohol levels since then have prompted the 400-member organization of brewers and suppliers to seek an accurate testing method from an international group that includes scientists who set standards for analysis of food and beverages, she added.

Crum said AOAC International is in the process of collecting data to precisely test kombucha but a viable method is likely years away.

“Some brands have indicated that they test their competitors’ kombucha and they find that sometimes products are above the half-a-per-cent (limit),” she said of levels allowed in the United States.

Crum said she is aware of the testing being done in British Columbia and is looking forward to the findings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2019.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Visitors relax at the natural hot springs located within Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. (tofinohiking.com photo)
Maquinna Marine Provincial Park boardwalk project on track

“The walk down the two-kilometre boardwalk to the springs itself is by far one of the most incredible experiences.”

WILDLIFE TREE: Tofino Poet Laureate Christine Lowther stands next to a giant cedar tree on District Lot 114, the site of Tofino’s controversial affordable housing project. The tree was pinned with an official Ministry of Forests yellow wildlife tree sign to educate fallers that the tree needs to be left standing for food, shelter and nesting. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Tofino author Christine Lowther calling for poetry about trees

“I’m thrilled to be of service to trees through poetry.”

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March 6. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino’s mayoralty candidates lay out key differences

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March 6.

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Clockwise from top right, chamber executive director Jen Dart moderated a Zoom-based forum last week where Tofino’s mayoralty candidates J.J. Belanger, Andrea McQuade and Dan Law made their pitch to lead their community. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Tofino mayoralty candidates face off at forum

Town to elect new mayor and two new councillors on March 6.

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

1957 photo shows Six Mile House-sponsored #4 1932 Ford stock car with Frank Morris (from left), Ted Mackenzie, Bill Sim and driver Gerry Sylvester. (Bud Glover/Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame)
Memories race as Western Speedway approaches its finish line

‘It was life to us:’ Vancouver Island racers, crew will never forget what the track gave them

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Most Read